ALIGARH: The not-so-veiled threat by the Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), Professor Ram Shankar Katheria on July 3, 2018 to cut off all government aid to Aligarh Muslim University is a clear pointer that the Modi-led government at the centre has decided to use this institution as a divisive flashpoint in the run up for 2019 Parliamentary polls.

The issue of entrance quota for scheduled castes is decades old. Since the past several years, successive governments have granted space to AMU’s plea that giving reservation to any other category in any minority institution would seriously undermine the very concept of a minority institution.

Successive governments, while not finally closing this chapter pertaining to AMU quota, did give credence to their argument that under Article 30 of Indian Constitution, religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own institutions.

This matter was more or less in cold storage for all these years till about a week back when smarting under the recent reverse suffered by the ruling party in the Parliamentary by poll in Kairana constituency in western Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath suddenly awoke to the fact that “AMU was not complying with the provision of mandatory reservations” for scheduled castes in this more than a century old national institution.

Taking a cue from the UP Chief Minister, Katheria announced that he would be visiting Aligarh on July 3 to take stock of the situation on this issue. And, almost simultaneously, the Lok Sabha MP from Aligarh, Satish Gautam, in a letter to the AMU Vice Chancellor, questioned the University authorities as to why AMU had failed to comply with this constitutional obligation for all these years? (He is the same gentleman who a few weeks ago had suddenly stoked the Jinnah portrait controversy in AMU shortly before the Kairana by poll.)

According to Jasim Mohammad, a very vocal alumnus of AMU and Director, Forum for Muslim Studies and Analysis (FMSA), “For more than three years Mr Gautam has been a member of the University’s highest governing body, AMU Court, and I fail to understand as to why he did not take the trouble of raising this issue in the University Court throughout his tenure”.

Prof Faizan Mustafa, a noted jurist and presently Vice Chancellor of NALSAR, Hyderabad, pointed out, “The spectre of the growing Dalit-Muslim unity and the prospects of a grand alliance of opposition parties seems to have prompted the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister to divert attention from the fact that the ruling party has failed to curb growing atrocities against scheduled castes in BJP ruled states”.

Mustafa told this writer, “Instead of filling vacancies in reserve positions in different universities in Uttar Pradesh, the UP Chief Minister has conveniently decided to rake up an issue which is not in his purview as it comes under the central government”.

The Professor further added that under Article 15(5) of the Indian Constitution, minority institutions are exempt from all constitutional reservations. This amendment was made in the year 2005 through the 93rd Constitutional Amendment which incidentally was not even opposed by the BJP at that time.

Mustafa said that the AMU authorities in an affidavit before the Supreme Court gave an assurance that till the question, whether AMU is a minority institution, is not decided by the Apex Court, in a case pending there, the AMU authorities would be guilty of contempt of court if they try to tinker with any issue pertaining to the admission process at the University.

When contacted, AMU spokesman Omar Saleem Peerzada, told this writer, “Last November, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes had summoned us for a meeting along with top officials of the University Grants Commission under HRD Minister in which we were asked to submit all legal documents in support of our case. After the conclusion of this meeting which was held on November 7, we were duly informed by the Commission on November 16 that in view of the fact that the matter is pending in the Supreme Court, no further action in the quota issue will be taken until the Apex Court gives its verdict”.

According to Peerzada, the AMU authorities were totally taken aback when this issue was suddenly taken up out of the blue last week.

President of the AMU Students’ Union, Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani, today said, “I urge the UP Chief Minister not to rake up such divisive and communal issues at this juncture as apart from vitiating the atmosphere, it will achieve nothing. The matter pertaining to the AMU status as a minority institution is pending in the Supreme Court and I wish to assure Mr. Yogi that whatever decision is taken by the Supreme Court will be honoured in letter and spirit by the entire AMU community”.

AMU is presently closed for the summer vacations, but it is clear that if the ongoing attempts to stir this controversy continue then AMU might well be used as a major flashpoint in the troubled atmosphere of the country’s most populous state.